A recent survey revealed the amazing fact that there are more Conservative and Progressive Jews in Israel than there are Haredim (ultra-Orthodox). Taking material from a vast survey by the Guttman Centre, journalist Shmuel Rosner (1) noted that 8% of Israeli Jews defined themselves as Conservative or Progressive (Reform) compared to just 7% who defined themselves as Haredi.
When considering the incredible amount of recent material about the “takeover” by the Haredi and the relatively little amount of attention paid to the liberal streams of Judaism in Israel, this information is quite stunning. While this imbalance is undoubtedly due to a large extent by the “visibility” of the Haredim and the publicity given to the outrageous behaviour of a small minority of their group, it also reflects something we see in our own region, the reluctance of Progressive Jews to “stand up and be counted” for what they are, often even adopting the stereotypical views put forward by others in the community.
Overwhelmingly, when taken with the evidence of a broad survey commissioned by the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) which showed that a significant number of “secular” and “traditional” Israeli Jews actually live with Progressive values and observance we should be encouraged and strengthened in our belief that there is more than one way to be Jewish – both here and in Israel.
Reflecting on the Guttman survey again, it might be less surprising to learn that a majority of Israelis (61 percent) “agree that the Conservative and Reform movements should have equal status with the Orthodox in Israel” as opposed to the current situation where only the Orthodox streams are recognised and supported by the State. However, this change will only come about when we Progressive Jews, here, in Israel and around the world, insist that the status quo is changed to reflect the words of the Declaration of Independence that “The State of Israel will…guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture for all of its inhabitants…”
At a time when there are groups around the world seeking to de-legitimise Israel and her right to exist we need to re-double our support for the State and, at the same time, we must increase our call for the State to fulfill its role as the Home for all Jews and not just those of a certain denomination.
As the United Israel Appeal campaign to provide asylum and a new home for refugees from around the world unrolls over the coming weeks please remember that we need Israel to be strong and healthy. Make a donation to help refugee absorption and, by designating that gift to the “UIA Progressive Trust”, ensure that those funds are directed to the work of Progressive rabbis in offering an inclusive Judaism to the new arrivals as well as supporting the work of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.
For more information about any of these issues or to make a donation to the UIA Progressive Trust please call our office (02) 9328 7644 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Steve Denenberg